In my years of work in Quality Control and Quality Assurance, I have been privileged to work both domestically and internationally. My projects took me to Ohio, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Florida, California, and to international assignments in the Netherlands and Mexico. Though they specialized in different processes, spoke different languages, and came from diverse cultures, they all had one thing in common: A well developed system.
Unfortunately, when a system is broken in food safety, consequences can be devastating to the public (e.g. 10 Costly Food Recalls). On the flipside of that coin, the companies that do manage to make it work understand something crucial. They know that we are all working together to make the best product possible, with the highest quality and regard for public food safety.
Here are a few examples of what those good systems look like:
The Team Culture
Any great leader, be it in sports or business, will tell you that all of their greatest achievements would not have been possible if it weren’t for an amazing team. In a QA system the team is typically structured so that you have technicians, coordinators, supervisors, managers, directors, and so on. Each of these people have a different strategic role, however our common goal is simple, “make the best product, without causing harm to anyone.” That’s our big W (i.e.win). The best QA teams develop their employees from the bottom up. They understand that in order to detect and prevent food safety or quality issues, their entry-level technicians must master their craft quickly and efficiently. This is achieved by hiring already experienced employees, or recognizing and developing the talented up-and-comers.
Strong HACCP Plan
I simply can’t stress this enough. A properly developed HACCP plan will make a successful food business. It all starts here. Before you start producing a single food product, your flow diagram and HACCP plan should be the first things you perfect. I like to think of this as a game of “Risk.” You know, that board game, where the goal is to control as much of the world as possible? Well, as a kid I always had a hard time hanging on to Eurasia because I never played with an actual plan. I never thought it through properly, and I always lost. If your HACCP plan is properly thought out, you’ve worked out all of your strategies, and figured out all of your potential risks, you will dominate your food safety world...and you'll reduce your company's "risk." <-----See what I did there?
We hear the word “validation” often in the food industry. Some of us may even use it incorrectly. I have even witnessed QA Managers confusing Verification with Validation. What we need to understand immediately is that in order to achieve a desired process, food safety, shelf life, or good microbiology, we must have everything validated first. Validation is ONLY achieved when a scientifically certified, independent third party is involved. Only then will you achieve proper validation of your process.
Food Safety Audits
In one of our previous blogs I wrote that the food safety audits are a part of daily life. As a former internal auditor myself, I understand that they can be uncomfortable. It’s like someone saying they thoroughly enjoy going to a dentist for a root canal. Stop lying to yourself, man, nobody likes that! But in the end, we have to be comfortable with them, and understand that they are there to make us better. Treat every audit as an opportunity to show your team how good they really are. As one of my previous bosses did for me, think of it as a development opportunity for a hungry entry-level employee. Although it sucks at the time, it will do wonders for their career and self-esteem.
These are just a few examples of what you can find in a top notch QA system. We can keep the list going, and I encourage you to do so for your own team, but these are the big ones in my opinion. The beautiful part is that it doesn’t take too much achieve it. After all, what price are you willing to place on food safety?